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GRN USA Assistant Director Allan Starling gets around a bit. He's just returned from a round-the-world trip, meeting with GRN staff from every continent. While the meetings themselves were very worthwhile, the travel stories can be just as interesting!
Right: Bangkok Airport - where Allan's name is questioned
We all know that things have changed in airports since 911. However, I thought the authorities would have had plenty of time by now to get their new act together. After lugging my cases up and down Bradley Terminal at LAX looking for China Airlines, I was told that I had to go back to the front to have my baggage ex-rayed. The security station had taken over space formerly used by other functions, but the signs had not been changed. An official yelled me at for standing in the wrong line. I was in the "Toilets" line instead of the "First aid" one. Pardon me!
In Bangkok airport I got another lecture. As I checked in for my boarding pass for the flight to Australia, the lady behind the Thai Air desk frowned and looked at her computer screen. "Your visa for Australia has not been approved," she informed me. I produced a printout that I had previously made from the Australian Web Site stating that my visa was granted and paid for, but this didn't jibe with her computer screen. "What name did you use?" she queried. "Was it Starling or Allan Henry?" Rather taken aback I said "Both. That is my full name." But she insisted, jabbing her finger at my passport, "You have two names. You can only use one. Which one did you use?" She then lectured me on being properly prepared when I got to her counter because she had many passengers to take care of. I was glad she hadn't found out that my full name is really Allan Henry George Starling.
With a shake of her head, she finally issued my boarding pass with the admonition that they would turn me back when I got to Sydney. Although I didn't really believe her, I flew all the way with that nagging doubt in the back of my mind. "Will they let me in? - What is my real name? - Will they believe me?" In the end it took sixty seconds to clear immigration in Sydney... BUT... would I be able to leave the country...?
I was in for another lecture when I tried to get my Boarding Pass to fly from Australia to Thailand. "Where is you ticket to leave Thailand?" asked a much-more-polite but equally persistent lady behind the Thai airways desk at Sydney Airport. I informed her that the ticket had been delivered to our Thailand office and I would pick it up after I got there. I showed her the itinerary I had received from the travel agent, plus the rest of the tickets. She politely but firmly warned me that they would not let me in the country unless I produced the missing ticket. Further more, she compounded my guilt by informing me that the airline could be fined for letting me on their plane! Fortunately she printed the Boarding Pass, but with a "be-this-on-your-head" and "don't-let-it-happen-again" lecture. Once again, despite dire warnings, I sailed through immigration!
PLEASE TAKE THIS...
If you work for GRN and you have to fly somewhere, be prepared to carry stuff for others!
Before leaving LA I received various items such as a tent, a sizable lap-top battery, videotapes, cassette masters in assorted languages, two jackets, and a blow-up mattress, all to be delivered to people along the way who would then take them back to other countries. I renamed the "blow-up mattress" to "inflatable mattress." You never know what some security-minded official may think. As I delivered the items at various point, the space they had occupied was quickly taken up by other items to be delivered back home.
One of the favorite questions they like to ask at airports is "Did anyone give you anything to take with you?" The question is simple but the answer is not! Fortunately they were so busy lecturing me about other things that they did not get around to that question. Arriving in Sydney, my bags went through the X-ray of the Agricultural Inspectors. The tent caught their expert attention, and I had to fish it out of the bag so they could ascertain that it did not have soil harboring bad bacteria clinging to it. Fortunately, it was brand new.
I was waiting to be taken to the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My luggage as all packed. I spent some time making sure I had left the right things behind and was taking everything I was supposed to take, including the tent and my jacket. Now I had thirty minutes to relax - or did I? A tap on my door was followed by an apologetic announcement, "I have some spools for you to take back to the USA." Spools are another name for open reel tapes that are used on the professional Nagra tape recorders. These are one-of-a-kind originals, so are not sent through the postal system. Most of our field people now record on digital machines, and produce CD's that take up no space at all. The "spools" however, are in boxes seven inches square and just under an inch deep. He had fifty of them! Needless to say, this called for some drastic and frantic rearranging of my luggage. Somehow I was able to stuff most of them in, and told him to find another way to deliver the rest. My bulging bag caused some mumbled comments about "too much" and a long delay at the Thai Airways check-in counter before they finally accept it.
I learned my lesson by the time I reached Ghana, and made sure that anybody who had anything to send gave it to me two days ahead of departure! That was a mixed blessing, because I was presented with thirty more "spools." Fortunately by then I had delivered the tent and other paraphernalia, so there was room. But would my ageing duffel bag hold up under the strain? I decided to tie lots of string around it to keep the zippers from parting under the extra strain. Who cares what it looks like, as long as the goods are delivered?
This slight inconvenience was nothing compared to what the field people had to go through to record these tapes. They don't have comfortable recording studios because they have to go to where the people live to do their job. That explains why they wanted the tent and inflatable mattress! Now comes the job of digitally remastering the tapes and getting them ready for duplication and placement.
Among the load I lugged through airports and train stations were tapes representing ten languages in which the Gospel message was recorded for the very first time. Perhaps if I had thought of that, those cases would not have felt so heavy.